LeBron James has long confirmed his status as a cyborg when it comes to basketball but the Lakers seem to be testing how long he can fight off Father Time. Set to turn 37 years old this month, James is playing 36.9 minutes per game in the dozen games he’s featured in.
That mark is not only more than last season or any season with the Lakers, it would be the most minutes he’s played since the 2017-18 season when he was a spry 33-year-old in Cleveland. Despite that figure rising through the early parts of this season, head coach Frank Vogel said the team is simply monitoring his minutes for now and aren’t yet worried about the workload.
“We’re always monitoring his load and just being intelligent with it,” Vogel said. “Obviously the overtime games are what they are. He’s going to be in there for those, but like you said, he has missed some time. The totality is I think less of a concern than if he played a triple-overtime game and then you played the next night, do you exercise caution in those instances? It’s just something that literally we monitor on a daily basis. We rely on the medical team and feedback on how he’s feeling and make smart decisions.”
James himself has pushed back multiple times against any plans of load management, most recently this preseason when he said he feels worse when he plays low minutes. At the same time, Vogel stated they wanted to keep James between 34-36 minutes, a figure he’s sitting just above so far this year.
This season, his minutes total comes with the caveat that he has only played in 12 of the team’s opening 24 games and just 443 of a possible 1,152 minutes for the team this season. Even if James plays every remaining game for the Lakers this season totaling 70 on the year — an unlikely scenario — and stayed at the rate of 36.9 minutes per game — another unlikely scenario — then he would play 2,140 minutes, still fewer than the 2,316 he played in the 2019-20 season.
Obviously, it’s not ideal that James’ age and minutes played per game are almost equal when he’s about to turn 37 years old. It’s unlikely he remains at that level this season, though if the Lakers keep playing overtime games and failing to blow opponents out, that may not be the case. But one of the small silver linings of the time missed by James is that he has been afforded some unexpected rest.
The Lakers can’t keep testing Father Time when it comes to James. But if there’s one person who could push back the advances of Father Time, at least for now, it’d be the cyborg that is James.